Grandmother fights for tougher drunk driving laws
The Canadian Press
Published Monday, September 27, 2010 6:32AM EDT
RED DEER, Alta. - Sandra Green was vacationing in Mexico last winter when she learned on the Internet that her daughter and son-in-law had been killed by a suspected impaired driver in Alberta.
Their five children had suddenly become orphans.
Green, 61, and other relatives rushed to Red Deer to look after the family, but she says the pain was so intense she could barely breathe.
In the weeks that followed the crash, the retired teacher decided to channel her grief and anger by using the deaths of Krista and Brad Howe as a rallying point for tougher drunk driving laws. Green wants to spare other families the same ordeal -- and the federal government says it is listening.
"I have not spent one tearless day since Feb. 7. You can't imagine how horrible it is," said Green, who now helps her other daughter, Karla, raise the children, who are between five and 15 years old.
"Irresponsible behaviour by impaired drivers shatters lives."
Green has written to Prime Minister Stephen Harper calling for automatic jail terms for drunk drivers. She also wants those convicted of a second impaired offence to lose their licence for life.
To try to further her cause, she has started an online petition that can be found at www.itsnotanaccidentitsmurder.info
In a written reply to Green, Harper said the deaths are a reminder that the federal government must consider taking further steps to discourage impaired driving.
Justice Minister Rob Nicholson told Green in another letter that Ottawa is seeking input from the provinces before making Criminal Code changes that would allow police to randomly conduct breath tests on drivers.
The measure was a recommendation made last year by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.
"The government accepts the committee's recommendation in principle; however, I do intend to consult further with the provinces and territories and other stakeholders prior to proceeding with legislative reform in this area," Nicholson wrote Sept. 9.
The Alberta government says it has told Ottawa it fully supports random breath-testing.
"Ottawa is very aware of our position," said David Dear, a spokesman for Alberta Justice. "Random breath-testing has been proven an effective deterrent in a number of countries where it has been tried. That includes Australia and western Europe."
Random tests fall far short of the crackdown Green says is necessary to bring home the message that impaired driving is unacceptable. But she realizes that getting tougher laws will be slow and frustrating.
Green praised British Columbia for enacting legislation in the past week that allows police to get suspected drunk drivers off roads even if they haven't tested over the legal limit. Other provinces, including Alberta, have no immediate plans to follow B.C.'s lead.
In the meantime, the Greens are busy changing their lives to bring up the children.
Krista Green, 34, quit her job as a registered nurse in Vancouver and moved to Red Deer to become the children's legal guardian. She made the decision only minutes after learning of her sister's death. The transition from being a single woman working on her master's degree to a single mother of five has not been easy.
"It is really crazy and it is really hard to imagine even though I am doing it," she said.
"The responsibility is overwhelming sometimes. I have the challenge of trying to fill the shoes of two amazing people and helping keep five children to stay mentally, physically and emotionally healthy."
Krista Green said she thinks about the need to toughen Canada's impaired driving laws every day and shudders inside whenever she sees people drinking.
Last weekend, she felt ill watching young people get into cars after leaving a raucous party in her neighbourhood.
"It is so painful. You feel like your heart is just being ripped apart."
She said she is proud of her mother for launching the lobby campaign and fully supports it.
Sandra Green's online petition is tapping into that same sentiment. People are slowly adding their signatures and comments, and she hopes her efforts will snowball as word gets out.
"I am not going to give up. People are unhappy with the leniency of the system. If we get enough people who say it is time for change, it will happen.
"I am really hopeful that maybe other mothers and fathers and families won't have to be in our position if the changes take place."
Chad Olsen, 22, faces charges of impaired driving causing death, dangerous driving causing death and driving with a blood alcohol level over the legal limit. He is to appear in court Nov. 10.